Treatment for constipation depends on the cause, how long you've had it and how severe your symptoms are.
In many cases, it's possible to relieve the symptoms by making dietary and lifestyle changes.
The various treatments for constipation are outlined below.
Laxatives are a type of medicine that help you pass stools. There are several different types of laxative and each one has a different effect on your digestive system.
Your GP will usually start you on a bulk-forming laxative. These work by helping your stools to retain fluid. This means they're less likely to dry out, which can lead to faecal impaction. Bulk-forming laxatives also make your stools softer, which means they should be easier to pass.
Commonly prescribed bulk-forming laxatives include ispaghula husk, methylcellulose and sterculia. When taking this type of laxative, you must drink plenty of fluids, and don't take them before going to bed. It will usually be 2 to 3 days before you feel the effects of a bulk-forming laxative.
If your stools remain hard after you've taken a bulk-forming laxative, your GP may prescribe an osmotic laxative instead. Osmotic laxatives increase the amount of fluid in your bowels. This softens your stools and stimulates your body to pass them.
Commonly prescribed osmotic laxatives include lactulose and macrogols. As with bulk-forming laxatives, make sure you drink enough fluids. It will usually be 2 to 3 days before you feel the effect of the laxative.
If your stools are soft, but you still have difficulty passing them, your GP may prescribe a stimulant laxative. This type of laxative stimulates the muscles that line your digestive tract, helping them to move stools and waste products along your large intestine to your anus.
The most commonly prescribed stimulant laxatives are senna, bisacodyl and sodium picosulphate. These laxatives are usually only used on a short-term basis, and they start to work within 6 to 12 hours.
According to your individual preference and how quickly you need relief, your GP may decide to combine different laxatives.